Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dealing With Life's Curve Balls

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:26-28

When Your Heart Hurts…

The couple sat across from me in my office with tears in their eyes. The doctor’s office had called with an unexpected opening in the schedule and wanted to know if the wife would come in right away for an ultrasound. It was a routine procedure, and likely the child’s sex would be determined. Of course she would! Once at the office, the procedure went smoothly. It was determined the baby was a boy, but she could sense that something wasn’t quite right. “Oh, we’ll send you a letter,” the nurse assured her. A few minutes later, however, she found herself on another floor with another doctor. Suddenly this mom realized that she’d been thrown yet another of life’s curveballs: the unborn child she was carrying had the most serious type of Spina Bifida, Myelomeningocele. Both she and her husband had wrestled with this unplanned pregnancy from the beginning, trying to grasp God’s perspective on this circumstance. Now to wrap their minds and hearts around the fact that this child, if it survived at all, would likely be severely handicapped, had stretched them to their limits. They are believers, true disciples of Jesus Christ. They had been through difficult situations before. Nevertheless, they were plagued by the questions ‘How much more can we take?’ and ‘When is enough, enough, God?’ Fair questions.

As we prayed, shared and wept together, it occurred to me that this is the stuff of life. Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t just about getting ‘caught’ doing something ‘naughty.’ We continue to reap the consequences of their sin every day. Let’s put it in a modern context: when your computer hard drive becomes corrupt and crashes, there is little you can do except wipe it clean and start over. If you are very fortunate, you can sometimes recover a few files, but typically the drive itself must be re-formatted. Life on this planet is not unlike a corrupted hard drive…the operating system no longer functions according to its original design. In real life, this is what the Apostle Paul calls the ‘wages of sin.’ But our Creator was unwilling to give up so easily; such was His love for us. He provided a means through which we – ‘corrupted files’ – can be rescued. He sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem us and pay the penalty for our disobedience. All we must do is allow Him to reach into our lives and rescue us. But this can be much harder than it seems!

From time to time we will encounter difficult circumstances. It’s a given. It’s also likely there will be times when we feel we just can’t "take it any more". The Apostle Paul understood this perhaps better than anyone. In 2 Corinthians 4 he writes, "You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies."

This means that we look to Him as the object of our love and the source of our life. We follow the way of life He prescribed for us, and we – through the miracle of the Holy Spirit’s power – enjoy intimate relationship with the Father, our Creator, through surrender and obedience to the Son. We have to remember this! It’s not about us, our comfort, or our ‘rights.’ It’s all about Him. He promises that one day we will exist in His presence, all corruption removed far from us. In the meantime, Jesus promised, that as long as we are alive on this planet, we can expect trouble to come our way. And yet He encourages us to be of good cheer, reminding us that He has overcome the world!

We live in a day where popular theology is synchronized to a western mindset that accepts comfort as "good" and discomfort as "evil". Some teach that God does not intend for, nor wills us, to suffer. If we suffer, it is because our faith is weak, we haven't prayed enough, or Satan is somehow dominating our circumstances. This teaching is flawed, and inconsistent with Scriptural Truth. Earlier in the same chapter, Paul states, "We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this." Jesus Christ has overcome the world. We, on the other hand, still live in it. John the Beloved wrote, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." "Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." (1 John 4:1-5, 10-12)

This passage explains why the life of the believer is victorious. It is not because we are granted every whim and desire, always getting ‘our way,’ but because we who have received the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ live forever for His glory! Our lives will extend beyond this world's existence. That, my friend, is how we overcome the world! These present sufferings are temporary. They only last until the grave. We, on the other hand, are not destined for the grave, but to live all eternity in the presence of the One who loves us most and knows us best! We obey Christ's teachings in every circumstance, even the hard ones; understanding when all is said and done, through Him, we win. And this is the victory: His glory – not ours – is manifested in and through us for all eternity!


Anonymous said...

God also teaches about suffering, through Peter’s writings, in 1 Peter.

The entire book is littered with instruction and encouragement of how we ought to live while suffering – what our lives should look like to the world in the midst of persecution...etc... It also teaches that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable for His people. I don’t believe that the Lord willingly afflicts, yet in His love for us, appoints trials (some sharper than others) to show His people their hearts – purging, chastening, and purifying us through the testing of our faith. These tests and trials are for your own good, probably more recognizable in the latter end than in the present.

God has always used suffering to perfect and purify His people and to demonstrate the sufficiency of His grace – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In James, we are also called to consider our trials as joy “…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (some translations say ‘endurance’)…” (James 1:2, 3).

I liked what you had to say about God’s promise to us as Christians – that He will return and take us home – away from this sinful, tainted, corrupt world – to live with Him on a new earth and in a new Heaven (Peter also touches on this in the first couple of chapters in 1 Peter).

Ultimately, I believe that it’s only when we don’t trust in His sovereignty or when we don’t understand His purposes and plans that we will experience worry, fear, anxiety, doubts…etc… when things go wrong. On the flip side of these trials, we must remember the promise, trust in the promise – ask God for wisdom and help – train ourselves (with the power of the Holy Spirit) to concentrate on eternal things and not the temporal things of this world and count ALL of our trials and difficulties as joy! Easier said than done… This is a link to Matthew Chandlers blog (the lead pastor at The Villiage Church) who has recently experience a life changing trial and is in the recovery process after surgery. If you get a chance – watch the video. Then ask yourself - "Am I worthy of a trial like this?" Eye opening…

In Christ,

Saved by Grace

Mark said...

Thanks for your comment, Pastor Matt. I rejoice that you have come through surgery successfully and the prognosis is good. I appreciated hearing your heart as I watched the video on your blog site. Rest assured of my prayers!